President Obama gave a characteristically well-delivered speech, and one that demonstrates why he has the potential to be a transformational liberal leader. Sure, his contradictory goals don’t stand up to much scrutiny. He says we’ll all have to give up some of our priorities even while outlining the most expansive domestic agenda in decades. He says he doesn’t believe in bigger government, but vows to pump more money into banks, bail out homeowners, set up a fund to provide auto loans, and spend billions more on education and energy. He creates the illusion of being a sober and realistic leader who understands that we face some hard choices and tradeoffs while he declares that the way to reduce the growth of government spending on health care is to have the government spend more money on health care. There’s simply no way that all of his policy claims add up. But they don’t have to. Not right now. President Obama remains popular and is in office at a time of crisis. After eight years of Bush, the American public is desperate and open to his arguments for a more robust role for the federal government. Obama talks of the day of reckoning. Well, at some point, he’ll face his own day of reckoning, when his rhetorical flourishes will be swatted down by reality. But until that day comes, he’ll get much of what he wants. The big question is how much damage he can do before the public catches on to him.
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